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Veterinary Forum November 2008 (Vol 25, No 11)

Editor's Note — Fighting rabies here and across the border

by Marie Rosenthal

    Despite effective vaccines, rabies causes the death of one to three people in the United States each year, and around 45,000 others require rabies prophylaxis after possible exposure. Around the world the picture is even worse — about one person dies every 10 minutes from rabies, a preventable disease.

    In this issue, you will read a story about a rabid puppy from Iraq that was brought into this country. Even though dog-to-dog transmission of rabies has been eliminated here, rabies virus variants can still be imported by unvaccinated dogs, and dogs can be infected by rabid raccoons, bats and other wild animals.

    We must continue to vaccinate our dogs — and cats — against rabies.

    Because viruses do not honor government-made boundaries, it is essential to work with our neighbors to combat this problem. I am happy to report that we are.

    The newly signed North American Rabies Management Plan is an agreement among the United States, Canada and Mexico to establish a framework for long-term wildlife rabies management. The plan calls for representatives to meet each year to share information about oral rabies vaccine research, wildlife management, population control and surveillance techniques.

    This agreement builds on an already successful collaboration among the three countries. US and Canadian representatives in the fields of health, agriculture and wildlife management work together each year to develop complimentary rabies management plans to ensure the virus's containment in wildlife. In recent years, US and Mexican officials also have worked to successfully eliminate canine rabies in coyotes in southern Texas. This resulted in the 2007 announcement that canine rabies (the strain that circulates globally from dog-to-dog) had been eliminated in the United States.

    Because human cases of rabies in North America are often the result of exposure to wildlife with the virus, each country works to eliminate the virus in its wildlife populations. In the United States, oral rabies vaccination programs aim to prevent the spread of rabies in the gray fox, coyotes and raccoons.

    But a key component is vaccinating pets. As veterinarians, you can help by making sure that all of your patients are vaccinated against this killer.

    NEXT: IVECCS Update — Managing bite wounds in the ER